The “Generational” RB – Are there any from the 2020 draft?

by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller

First things first, the term “generational player” seems to get some people’s backs up. If you take the term at it’s literal meaning, then sure, it’s extremely rare to find one, and, almost impossible to predict one to have a hall of fame career. But, if you accept that this overused term is used to describe a player that could end up being in the top tier of elite talents for the majority of their careers, then we can explore the possibility of seeing a potential “generational” player from this years’ draft.


Over the last few decades, we’ve seen many running backs progress through the collegiate ranks and create a buzz within the NFL community when the draft rolls round. Some players have lived up to the hype, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson and Saquon Barkley to name just a few, and some have developed into upper echelon elite backs when not so hyped coming out of college – Le’veon Bell and Frank Gore come to mind. But, of course there have been those that have failed to progress to the pro-level and have proved complete busts, please stand up Trent Richardson, Ki-Jana Carter and Darren McFadden, with an honourable mention to Leonard Fournette who “some” considered a “generational” talent.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

What constitutes a “generational running back” label?

NFL analysts/journalists/reporters or whatever title you want to give someone that discusses this sport with an audience generally speak about their opinion which in most cases is backed up with some kind of statistical data. To me, that’s how a player with this label comes about. It’s a blend of stats from their collegiate careers mixed with what NFL scouts and professional analysts portray their talent level’s to be.

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For me, I think that to be considered “generational”, the player must have a productive college career. I put that number at 1,000 rushing yards season average, and in more recent times, some proven receiving ability. I know that’s not a water-tight system, but when you look at “generational talents” that have had elite-level careers, they all had this level of productiveness at the collegiate level.

It’s only very recent that the new breed of “generational running back” ‘must’ be productive in the passing game as well as on the ground.


Previous “generational” running backs

So by using that logic, I’ve devised a list of former players since the year 2000 that have seen that level of collegiate productiveness, hyped by the media as generational talents, and drafted within the top 50 (indicating NFL scouts also believe in the talent). Productiveness is seen here by using the players’ rush yards, receiving yards and touchdowns per season averages whilst at college.

These 11 players drafted over the last 20 years have had the “generational player” tag linked with them coming out of college football. Judging by the season average stats, you get a good indication of what’s required in order to be projected a great future.


Current potential “generational” running backs

From this year’s prospects, it’s apparent to see that one player fulfills the criteria of being a “generational talent”; Jonathan Taylor. In fact, his rushing yards and TDs per season average are miles ahead of any other running back out of college in the last 20 years.

J.K Dobbins isn’t far behind statistically although he doesn’t meet my particular criteria as he was drafted outside of the top 50. Statistically though, Dobbins too could be considered a generational level player.

D’Andre Swift comes in third and not a million miles away from hitting the criteria having been the most productive in the receiving game out of these selected players.

Cam Akers needed to be more productive in the ground game, whereas ironically, the first RB off the board in this years’ draft Clyde Edwards-Helaire is someway off what I would deem as a “generational” player.

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Predicting their futures

Of course now these players have been drafted into the NFL, lot’s of new variables come into play to determine whether or not they can translate their college production into a pro-level. What’s their new offensive line like? Are they a part of a committee? Do they have proven veterans ahead of them? Are they a part of a run-friendly scheme? Does their new Head Coach like to run the ball frequently? Are they playing in a similar scheme to what they did in college?

You’d like to think the NFL teams and their scouts have done their homework before drafting the players onto their rosters in order to get the best out of their high-capital picks, but some times that doesn’t always work out.

Let’s look at those previously mentioned players and how their NFL careers progressed (some of course are still active) and whether their “generational player” tag rang true in their pro-careers.

It’s been quite a mix bag of success. From the HOF careers of LT and Adrian Peterson to the bust and near bust careers of Ron Dayne and T-Rich.


In Conclusion

Predicting just how the careers of the Class of 2020 is almost impossible, but judging by historical data and recency bias, these prospects will unlikely be busts in their careers.

It’s hard not to love Jonathan Taylor after seeing what he’s done in his college career and ending up behind one of the best offensive lines currently in the NFL with Indianapolis.

D’Andre Swift could potentially see a path to a majority backfield after the Lions clearly signaled that Kerryon Johnson by himself is not the answer, and J.K Dobbins is in a ripe running spot with a run-first team in Baltimore. However, Dobbins may have to wait for Mark Ingram to move on before claiming the backfield for himself.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire has landed on a team coached by a run-favouring HC in Andy Reid and is the most talented RB on that roster, and despite Cam Akers running behind an ageing o-line, Todd Gurley had a very successful rookie contract for the Rams when he was healthy.


Final Opinion and Career projection

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts – A “Generational talent” who is in the right spot to produce elite numbers over his career

J.K Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens – Borderline “Generational talent” who is on a team that could lead him to produce elite numbers over his career

D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions – Elite college talent that could be elite in the NFL if the right team is built around him and he’s used as a swiss army knife.

Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams – Elite college talent but is likely to put up average numbers unless drastic changes in the future help him progress to the next level.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs – Good college talent helped by one outstanding season. Is in the right spot to be very productive, but will likely only return good, not elite production.